Six tiny satellites have been approved to join the CubeSat program for NASA's 2014 fiscal year. Although each satellite measures just 30 by 10 by 10 centimetres, they're capable of big science. The projects will collect data on terrestrial and space weather, with two particularly focusing on plasma bubbles.
The CSSWE CubeSat was launched in 2012, and continues to cycle between two operational states. Image credit: University of Colorado
The approved projects for the 2014 CubeSats are:
ELFIN-STAR (Helio-1): The Electron Losses In Fields INvestigation CubeSat will measure the radiation belt. The CubeSat will loaded with a fluxgate magnetometer and a pair of energetic particle detectors, one each for ions and electrons. It will study if electromagnetic ion cyclotron waves are tied to precipitation of relativistic electronics in the Earth's radiation belt.
CuSPP (Helio-2): The CubeSat to study Solar Particles over the Poles will do exactly that, study high-speed charged particles. The satellite will carry a miniaturized Suprathermal Ion Sensor, monitoring the properties of charged particles prior to impacting the ionosphere. Read more about it here.
TBEx (Helio-3): This CubeSat will look at atmospheric gravity waves and their relationship to the formation of equatorial plasma bubbles. Plasma bubbles are when unstable regions of the ionosphere produce anomalous regions of higher-than-normal electron density that can be tens of kilometers across. The bubbles rise up to 1,000 meters altitude, and can disrupt communication.
MinXSS (Helio-4): The Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer CubeSat will be launched in low-Earth orbit, but will observe the sun in the X-ray spectrum. It will be most sensitive to the 30 to 0.4 Å wavelengths, the temperatures closely associated with flares. It will also track those solar particles impact on Earth's ionosphere, thermosphere, and mesosphere. Read more about it here.
SORTIE (Helio-5): The CubeSat will also look at equatorial plasma bubbles, but this time how plasma structures in the F-region evolve after formation.
IceCube (Earth-1): Not to be confused with the failed ICECube 1 and 2 satellites, this CubeSat will carry a sub-millimeter wave radiometer. It will monitor ice clouds, particularly with relation to climate change.